Friday, June 29, 2012

Make a Splash for our Springs!

If you missed last week's rally at Silver Springs, here's another chance to stand-up for Florida's waters and meet a legend from Florida's Golden Age of Tourism. Read more here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More than the Mouse

I've been thinking about Orlando history quite a bit, as I've been inspired by a new Historic Orlando group on Facebook where wonderful images of the City Beautiful are being posted on a daily basis. A recent derogatory comment about Orlando on the Old Florida page also inspired me to do a mini-photo safari on my bike, to look for local history in my own backyard. So these images aren't up to my normal standards as often times I shot directly into the sun, and I rarely got of my bike to take a picture.

The lion of Lake Como

I started in the Lake Como area because I've always admired this house that was built in 1910 according to the County Appraiser's office. I'm sure when it was completed it was surrounded by orange groves or pasture land for dairy cows.

This house nearby on Lake Arnold also is much older than the houses surrounding it. I have been told it predates the great freeze of 1894. More research needed here.

My next stop was the Executive Airport near Lake Underhill. The airport used to be the Orlando Air Base during WWII. Between the airport and the 408 lies Kittinger Park, named after Orlando resident and aviation pioneer Col. Joe Kittinger.

Col. Kittinger's record-setting parachute jump the edge of space from 76,400 feet in 1959.

Next I peddled to Orlando's vintage bowling alley, Colonial Lanes. I've seen a photo of the great neon sign that used to be out front, now in someone's personal collection. The bar here is quite campy with a pretty awesome selection of classic country hits on the jukebox.

Nearby is a great vintage movie theater that now is a concert venue, the Plaza Theater. The wonderful diamond shaped sign is lit and spins on nights when there is a concert.

Nearby is the "Milk District", recently renamed because of the presence of Central Florida's largest dairy, T.G. Lee. Processing 230,000 gallons of milk a day, the company started with a single cow in 1925.

Across from the dairy, a block of bars and restaurant add a little grooviness to the district. The re-branding of this area has added creativity and youthful energy to an area that was starting to get a little run down.

Bicycle rack made of old skateboard wheels

Shuffleboard outside Sportstown Billiards (not regulation size)

I love it when people decide to move the road instead of removing the tree
Located adjacent to Dickson Azalea Park, the rustic Girl Scout House has been in constant use since 1940. The best example of authentic "Parkitecture"in Orlando.
The grounds of what is now Carl Langford Park, just South of Dickson Azalea Park, were once used as a Tin Can Tourist Camp. I've been told that this church was built to serve the campers' spiritual needs.

Note the stucco siding on the side – the aluminum siding on the front is a contemporary addition.
Tin Can Tourist Camp, State Archives of Florida
From Langford Park I continued towards the 408 to South Street, where the Reeves Terrace housing project is named after Orlando Reeves. Legend has it that Reeves was killed during one of the Seminole Indian Wars in the area, and the town bears his name.  Army rosters of the period, however,  show no soldiers of that name in the area. A more likely explanation for the city's name is that it was taken from a character in a play by Shakespeare.

The commercial archaeologist in me has often wondered if this non-descript brown building was once a drive-thru dairy in the 1950s or '60s. I've recently been told that it was in fact Roberts Dairy Land. Here's a link to see some drive thru dairies in North Florida.

Back on Bumby Avenue, this historic plaque tells the history of one of Orlando's earliest families.

All these sites are a short bike ride away for me, and I'm saving the second half of my ride for another post. There are many things I don't love about about Orlando. I wish it wasn't such a transient community, with people coming and going constantly. I wish there was less traffic.  But those who are so frequently critical of O-town haven't really looked beyond Disney's boundaries to see a beautiful city, with lots of charm and it's own unique history. It's my belief that once you start to learn about a place's history, the more it comes alive for you and before you know it you care about it more. I wish I could make this happen for everyone.

Note: I was also inspired by Jim Crescitelli's bike-riding, photo history blog seen here. Check out his posts featuring great photos and information about lesser known Central Florida history.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Protecting Florida's Waters

Recently I've heard authors Bill Belleville and John Moran speak of residents of the state of Florida needing to have a greater connection with place.  In today's world, many young people rarely leave their air-conditioned cocoons where they play video games for hours and when they do step outdoors they never disconnect from the technology of smart phones or i-pods. When I was a kid, we played in the woods – building forts, exploring, and making treks into swamps protected only by BB guns. When my wife and I moved to our house on a small lake in Orlando, it strengthened my connection to the landscape as nature's wonders appeared on a daily basis right in my own backyard. As I write this a Limpkin screams from behind the house while busy commuters rush to work in the front of my house. I'm always amazed at how the two worlds can co-exist in such close proximity to each other. Such is often the case in contemporary Florida.

I started testing the water of our lake for a program called Lakewatch, a state run project that monitors the water quality of the states almost 8,000 lakes. The scientific data I collect is lost on me, but I do notice that after a heavy rain, there tends to be algae blooms on the surface of the lake. While I live in the city, much of the lake is in unincorporated Orange County, and the lakefront lots in the county still have septic tanks. And storm sewers empty into our little lake bringing run-off from heavy fertilized yards from all over the neighborhood.

Backyard algae bloom after run-off from a recent rain

So I am invested in the issue of Florida's water quality. I have seen with my own eyes the drastic effects of the drought in North Florida, the greening of Central Florida's springs, and algae-coated bottoms of rivers and lakes where there should be sand. I'm also aware of the current political situation in Tallahasee where those in power seem hell bent on dismantling the last 40 years of environmental protections in order to "create less regulation that could stifle growth."


That's why I'll be attending the Rally for Florida's waters at Silver River State Park on Saturday, June 23rd. My wish is that the children of the future will inherit more than strip malls and mega attractions. It hope that kids decades from now be able to swim in crystal clear springs in summer just like I did, or canoe down the Suwannee and jump from a rope swing without having to go through a layer of algae to hit the water.

Take a look at some of these images photographed by my friend John Moran. If you don't want this to be your generation's legacy, I encourage you to attend the rally on the 23rd.

Itchetucknee River tuber by John Moran
Paddling through the Santa Fe River by John Moran
Algae bloom on the Santa Fe River by John Moran

Slime on the Santa Fe River by John Moran

Alapaha River by John Moran

My latest poster, an homage to Silver Spring's theatrical past